Thursday, February 18, 2016

Not a good day for UA

Is the University of Akron setting a new path for its controversial rebranding that includes  the tagline of  "Ohio's  Polytechnic University"?  That was at least suggested by Board of Trustees chair Jonathan Pavloff in a wide ranging interview in
the Buchtelite that will leave you still wondering where UA is going from here..

In a detailed Q&A, Pavloff, the sole authorized voice on the board where the other trustees are required to be seen but not heard,   cautiously responded    to a question by reporter Kristina Aiad-Toss   by conceding that the tagline  "may not work",  adding the leadership  did a bad job defining it.

The rebranders were so proud of their  dash into the future that the new tagline quickly appeared on T-shirts, printed materials and, for all that I know, President Scott Scarborough's bagel napkins  at Panera's .

Other takeaways from the interview:  The board speaks as a  single voice; he has no reaction to the  Beacon Journal's call for Scarborough to be "transitioned" (fired or forced to resign); questions about reducing tenured faculty exist on every campus; he can only  offer official measured neutrality on whether Scarborough is a good fit other than to say the board supports the decision that's made "collectively".   And on and on with few specifics on dealing with the campus chaos that has led me to suggest replacing polytechnic with "Ohio's pyrotechnic university.".

The interview is on line.

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Meanwhile, you might want to read another reflection of the school's problems  in an online piece headed "University of Akron struggling regional, hopes to expand worldwide."

It's written by Ellen Wexler for Inside Higher Education.   Although she quoted Scarborough's speech to the university in October in which he talked of his vision of a university with world-wide notice,  she observed that he has "done little to elaborate on his plans" other than to say that the school is working with outside companies.

Such secrecy is another example of privatizing and wearing  the corporate cloak of business as usual. First you must privatize, then vaporize  from public view to protect all parties.

Clearly, the UA brass is eager to outsource with national entities offering online education to the students.  It's a growing medium these days and does have some benefits for schools with heavy debt.  But there is a downside to directing kids away from live teachers. As one who has taken numerous DVD courses from Great Courses, I have done so because the half-hour  lectures are superbly taught in any course you might choose.

But there are moments when the professor has referred to something in the materials (which come with a manual in 24 to 36 lectures) when I would like to raise my hand about a point that needed more clarity for me.  Online, you can't do that.

Summing up the travail at UA, Wexler writes:

"Outsourcing isn't uncommon.  But on top of the general turmoil at the university, there is the fear that core university functions will be outsourced to for-profit companies without input from the community.  One of Scarborough's first changes was too outsource dining, a common move at many colleges.  But then he began outsourcing other functions, like freshman advising.  And now, faculty members  are worried  sbout being  thrust into a nationwide for-profit partnership."

They are on to something that has no use for ivy covered walls.

There was a time when you could buy  modest house plans from a Sears catalog.  I have a crazy feeling that there's where outsourced college education is heading.  And Scarborough, who has left other campuses under a cloud, is just the guy to do that.

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